Summer Lunch Programs In and Around Billings, But With a Catch
Woooooo summer! It's the first summer without the COVID restrictions, so you know this one is going to be a blast. While your kids are out enjoying the summer, The State of Montana again is partnering with the USDA's Summer Food Service Program to ensure they have access to lunch.
What's the Summer Food Service Program?
Communities across Montana offer free meals to kids, as part of the USDA's Summer Food Service Program. Kalispell, Wolf Point, Havre, Lewistown, Great Falls, Miles City, Sidney, Livingston, Bozeman, Billings, Helena, Butte, Missoula along with most towns and cities in Montana are joined with this program to provide these free meals!
How do I find my nearest location?
Easy as pie. Simply text "Food" to 304304 or click the button below!
What can our children expect for a meal?
According to the Office of Public Instruction here in Montana, your child can expect an 8oz Milk, 3/4 Cup of Fruit/Vegetables (Two Types per meal), 1oz of Grains, and 2oz of Meat or Meat Alternatives.
Here's the official graphic, direct from their site, on these guidelines.
After calling around to local programs, I was able to find examples for you. Though, there is more to the story. I've included a bit of my own experience, as someone who can look at this from a "new" perspective.
- Tobin Novasio, Superintendent, told me their program does its' best to make meals kids WANT to eat.
- Summer Meals are comparable to school year meals, and they offer sack lunches. Prior to COVID, they had to eat in the school, but now they can Grab-N-Go.
- Tobin kindly provided me with the July Menu, below. He noted in the summer they include potato chips and other simple sides. Such as fresh cookies (which I am sure he had to hold back from taste testing) for tomorrow.
Billings Public Schools/Sodexo
- In talking with Amber Blackburn, Field Manager for Sodexo (Food Services for BPS, more on Sodexo later), she said their food is made to be stable for longer, as the program is so large and served mainly in parks across the city.
- One thing of note, I had a difficult time finding this information without calling multiple numbers (and finally reaching Amber). Amber told me they post the information in the Billings Gazette, and on Facebook (Which, if you search for, can be quite hard to find. So I made sure to find it for you).
Laurel Public Schools/Sodexo (Breakfast and Lunch) - Laurel Public Library (Lunch)
- I was so excited to see Laurel have the lunch menu, locations, and times readily available on the Laurel Public Library website! Good on you!
- Sadly, for Laurel Public Schools, I cannot say the same. They have a page dedicated to Food Services, showing the necessary details, however when clicking on the "Sodexo My Way" link... zilch. Zip. Zero. NADA. A big fancy landing page, with a button for the menu. What do you get? Here, take a look.
- Laurel, I understand we are busy. You are doing wonders for these kids with this program, I am certain of it. But that is what the page shows. Now, if you scroll down, you get... this.
- Hmmm, somehow... worse than the documentation provided by OPI. No matter. Maybe somebody around there can shed some light in a future update.
- I DID try calling the number listed, and have left a voicemail. However, I have no idea if it is actually associated with Sodexo. No voicemail greeting. Just a beep to start recording.
- Positive note, the kind people at the Laurel Public Library DO have the menu! THANK YOU!
Other schools and programs
- Sadly, the easiest way for you to find your nearest Summer Lunch Program is to use this map from the USDA. It works, but does not provide much beyond a location and a phone number. I'd simply suggest calling your local school district, or local library, to find out more.
A BIG Stinker about this program?
Sure, the program is wonderful for those who need it. I was one of those kids on the free lunch program back in Miles City for many years, as both my parents (separated, never married) did their best for me but simply could not afford the prices for lunches and breakfast in school.
Contacting schools, finding the right department, discovering neglected landing pages or being told to "read the paper" doesn't seem to be the right solutions. There are a plethora of well-meaning people in this program... but somewhere along the line, the actual corporate side seems to have gotten lost.
Please, update your websites with pricing for normal breakfast/lunch, times, locations, menus. In our modern era of technology, it takes minutes a month to do. It doesn't need to be pretty or fancy, just straight to the point and detailed. I'm sure the single parents working two to three jobs at once with two kids will thank you for it.